When a class of Center Grove fifth-graders was asked whether they’d prefer to read from an e-reader or a traditional book, more than half of the students said they still prefer their hard-bound or paperback books.
But schools have seen steady growth in interest in e-books and have been working to add more titles to their libraries.
Center Grove’s e-library currently has about 2,500 popular and contemporary titles, such as “Harry Potter” and “The Hunger Games,” more than twice the number the school district had in January 2011. Clark-Pleasant schools, which launched an e-library for middle and high school students in April, now has about 300 contemporary titles students can check out, up about 100 from when it first launched.
E-books typically are more expensive for schools to purchase — the price can range from $30 to $80, and some publishing companies require libraries to re-buy the e-book after it’s been checked out a certain number of times, school media specialists said.
But schools are willing to cover the cost because demand for the e-books, which can be read on devices like iPads or Kindles, is growing.
Last year Center Grove students were checking out an average of 14 e-books per day, but this year that average has grown to about 25 e-books per day. And the rate of e-books checked out during first semester was up about 35 percent from the 2011 fall semester, Center Grove High School media specialist Gigi Shook said.
“Everyday it seems like someone is asking me about the digital library. They want to know about it,” she said.
Schools also are working to get students more familiar with the devices.
Whiteland Community High School media specialist Denise Snyder said not many students have their own e-readers. But freshmen in the high school’s combined science and computer applications course have been given tablets by the school that they use to complete assignments, and they’re using those to check out e-books more.
Last month, Sugar Grove media specialist Barb Raymond started using a classroom set of Nooks with the school’s fifth-graders. Each month students from a different fifth-grade class get the Nooks, which they can use at school or take home. Raymond started the e-reader project with fifth-graders partly to show Center Grove what kinds of books it should purchase, but also to get students used to the devices.
And at Center Grove Middle School Central, counselor Julie Thacker is using Center Grove’s e-library to help students still trying to build their reading skills.
About 77 students at the middle school are in remedial language arts courses, typically because they failed a portion of the ISTEP. Thacker is using technology money to provide Nooks for each of those students that they can use in class and at home.
Students enjoy using tablets, and providing them with e-readers is a way of encouraging them to use to the devices to read more, Thacker said.
“Oftentimes students feel like a class like this is a punishment, and we wanted to give students a positive reward, and something fun to use to encourage them to read more, and make it a positive thing to be in the class,” she said.
The Nooks also mean other students won’t see their classmates who need a little extra help carrying books that might be used in lower grades, Thacker said.
“It just fosters an independence and boosts self confidence. Students can read at their reading level without anyone knowing. There’s an element of privacy,” she said.
The Nooks also allow students who aren’t yet strong readers to have 24-hour access to the library, she said.
That was also one of the benefits identified by the Sugar Grove Elementary School fifth-graders who tested out a set of Nooks. As part of the program, Raymond surveys the students to see what they thought of the devices.
Seventeen of the 28 students Raymond surveyed at the end of December said they’d prefer to read a traditional book instead of using an e-reader. Some of the students said they didn’t like having to charge the devices, while others simply enjoyed the feel of pages bound together.
But many of the same students also said they enjoyed having 24-hour access to Center Grove’s e-library, that they could easily find and check out books Sugar Grove didn’t have and that they could instantly look up definitions for words they didn’t already know. Most of the students Raymond surveyed don’t own e-readers, and Raymond suspects as students use them more they’ll start to prefer them.
“As more and more kids are getting exposed to the e-readers, they’re just going to become more popular,” she said.
And as e-readers become more common, the number of e-books checked out should also rise, Snyder said.
Media specialists at Center Grove and Clark-Pleasant schools agree, and are planning to buy more digital books for their e-libraries as teachers and counselors use them to encourage their students to read more.
“My thought is, because this is a growing market, I’m more willing to put (money) in digital. I think digital services the schools and their needs,” Shook said.
Center Grove used about $15,000 of a technology grant to launch its e-library last year, and maintaining it costs about $10,000 annually, half of which is used to purchase more e-books. The school district has been using grant money to pay for the e-library for the past two years, but the technology department will have to start paying for e-library software and e-books this summer, technology director Julie Bohnenkamp said.
White River Township residents can also use Center Grove’s e-library by paying $30 per year, and so far residents have paid about $1,000 that has been used to purchase more e-books, Bohnenkamp said.
A GOOD READ
Here are the details of the e-libraries for Center Grove and Clark-Pleasant schools. Both schools also use Project Gutenberg, which gives users free access to more than 30,000 classic titles such as “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Romeo and Juliet.”
When it began: Fall 2011
Number of popular titles: About 2,500
Who has access to them: All Center Grove students, although some titles are restricted by grade level. White River Township residents also can purchase an annual membership for $30.
When it began: April 2012
Number of popular titles: About 300
Who has access to them: Clark-Pleasant Middle School and Whiteland Community High School students. Some titles are restricted by grade level.